Several NBA teams have been hit hard by injuries or personal absences so far this season, but for the most part, teams have been plagued by short-term injuries, with players sidelined for days or weeks at a time. In Cleveland, the Cavaliers are now faced with multiple long-term absences, creating questions about whether the team needs to make a roster move or two to add depth.
The Cavs started the season essentially short one roster spot, since retired – and injured – guard Mo Williams was taking up one of those 15 openings. The team has been unable to negotiate a buyout agreement with Williams, and has kept him on the roster in the hopes of either recouping some of his salary or including him in a trade to balance contracts.
While Cleveland could easily get by with 14 healthy players, the team has lost a couple more recently, with Chris Andersen suffering a torn ACL that will sideline him for the rest of the season, and J.R. Smith undergoing thumb surgery that will keep him out of action for about three months.
The Cavaliers don’t currently qualify for a disabled player exception or hardship exception, and if they want to add a player to their roster, they’ll have to trade or waive someone. Andersen and Williams are obviously the two most likely candidates to be cut, but Cleveland will be reluctant to simply waive any guaranteed contracts. The team is already well into luxury tax territory, with a projected tax bill exceeding $30MM. Adding more team salary to the books, either via free agency or trade, will cause that tax bill to continue to grow.
The Cavs have a handful of trade exceptions at their disposal, including one worth more than $9.6MM, but the team doesn’t have a ton of trade assets available. Iman Shumpert is perhaps the most logical trade chip on the team’s roster, but his value isn’t believed to be overly high. And the best draft pick Cleveland could offer is its 2020 first-rounder. Even if the Cavs could find a trade partner that just wants to dump salary, such a deal would come at a high tax cost for Cleveland.
There’s no pressure on the Cavs to make a move immediately. GM David Griffin has said he’ll take his time to assess and adjust the roster as needed. Still, the Cavs’ roster depth is looking increasingly vulnerable, and it may mean leaning more heavily on LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love than the club wants to. So far, LeBron is averaging 37.1 minutes per game, his highest mark since he rejoined the franchise in 2014.
What do you think? Do the Cavaliers need to make a move to bolster their roster and improve their depth? Or can they afford to be patient and wait for better opportunities to materialize later in the season? If the Cavs do make a move, what sort of player should they target? Jump into the comments section below to weigh in with your thoughts!